REFINER (See Occupations and Professions: Coppersmith, Craftsman, Goldsmith, Silversmith)

REFINER, REFINING (צָרַף, H7671, and זָקַק, H2423, inflected as finite verbs and participles; many different Gr. words in the LXX are used, all meaning try, refine, smelt, purify, smith, et al.; NT πυρόω, G4792, is the Gr. verb in Revelation 1:15 and 3:18). The process of eliminating impurities, esp. from metals.

Normally, refining is a term used in reference to metals, but in Job (36:27) the word זָקַק, H2423, is used in reference to rain, and in Isaiah (25:6), in reference to wine. Since the basic meaning of this verb is to distill or strain, its use in cases of liquids is understandable. The more common word צָרַף, H7671, is used exclusively of metals except when used fig.

The process of refining was quite simple. It involved heating the ore to the melting point and then extracting the metal. The metal was refined by heating it to the liquid state and then skimming or blowing off the impurities, or dross. Naturally, such refined gold or silver was more precious and expensive. The altar of incense was made of refined gold (1 Chron 28:18) and the Laodicean church was urged to buy such refined gold (Rev 3:18). The Bible provides some indication of the process. Psalm 12:6 mentions the furnace, Isaiah 1:25 refers to the chemical lye, and Jeremiah 6:29 speaks of the bellows used to artificially create a draft.

The process of refining illustrates God’s dealing with His people; He is the refiner, they are the metal. So Isaiah can say fig., “I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (48:10; cf. 1:25). Malachi 3:3 uses both Heb. words: “He will sit as a refiner (צָרַף, H7671) and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine (זָקַק, H2423) them like gold and silver....” The psalmist prayed for such a process when he said, “Test my heart and my mind” (Ps 26:2b).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The ancient process of refining gold has already been described under METALLURGY (which see). Most of the Bible references are to the refining of silver (Pr 25:4; Zec 13:9; Isa 48:10). The silver used by the ancients was probably obtained by smelting lead sulfide ore, rich in silver (argentiferous galena). After the ore had been reduced to a metallic condition, the lead was separated from the silver by blowing hot air over the surface of the melted metal. The lead was thus changed to lead oxide which, in a powdered condition, was driven away by the air blast. The resulting lead oxide, called in the Bible silver dross, was used for glazing pottery (Pr 26:23), a use to which it is still put by Syrian potters. The description of refining in Eze 22:18-22 may indicate that a flux (compare "as with lye," Isa 1:25 the American Revised Version margin) was sometimes added to the melted metal to dissolve the oxides of copper, lead, tin and iron as they formed, thus leaving the silver pure. Crude processes similar to those described above are used in the Taurus Mountains today.


In the various Bible references the refining of precious metals is used figuratively to illustrate the kind of trial God’s children are called upon to go through. If they are of the right metal the dross will finally be blown away, leaving pure, clear, shining silver. If of base metal they will be like the dross described in Jer 6:29,30. The refiner may blow fiercely, but in vain, for nothing but lead dross appears.

James A. Patch